Thoughs on European Citizenship – Part 1 The Maltese Proposal

Citizenship for sale? - image source http://www.gov.mt
Citizenship for sale? – image source http://www.gov.mt

Today I would like to look into the problems associated by the European Union having no standard policy on citizenship.  In Part one I will examine the problems associated with Malta’s proposal to sell their citizenship to a handful of wealthy clients.  In Part 2 I will examine Spain’s proposal to give away their passports to potentially millions of descendants of exiled Spaniards.  In Part 3 I will examine the proposal of Alex Salmond’s government to provide Scottish citizenship to the third generation born abroad should Scotland’s referendum prove successful in September.

Before you read this I want to emphasize that I am a Librarian who is an amateur researcher on this subject.  Nothing in this post, or indeed this blog, should be considered to be legal advise or binding legal analysis.

In 1992 an EU treaty created the concept of European Union citizenship.  EU citizens have certain rights in all countries of the EU, including the right to vote in European wide and municipal elections, but more importantly the ability to live and work in any member state of the Union.  Fundamentally, EU citizenship is supplemental to national citizenship.  This means that one is British, or French, of German, or Swedish first and European second.  It is impossible to be a citizens of the European Union without also, and first, being a citizen of one of the now 28 member countries of the Union.  The ability to create rules about who is, and who is not, a citizen of your country is something that has never been relinquished by the member states and consequently European nations have no standardization in their citizenship and nationality laws.

The Economic crisis has shattered the fragile economies of many of Europe’s smaller countries and consequently they have been looking at new ways of generating revenue.  Both the Maltese and Spanish proposals I am going to analyze appear to be at some level about generating potential revenue, but they differ is how their directness.

Recently the Republic of Malta was heavily criticized by other EU countries for a proposal that would alter Maltese law to allow the country to provide Maltese citizenship (and its supplementary EU citizenship) to wealthy investors.  The cost of Maltese citizenship was reported to be 650 thousand Euros (nearly 1 million Canadian dollars).  News reports on this program suggest the sale would bring in anywhere from 30 million to 1 billion Euros for the Maltese treasury.

It is hardly unusual for countries to provide a mechanism for the wealthy to immigrate.  Canada had its Economic Investor Program for a decade until it stopped taking new applicants in 2012 and is scheduled to be concluded in 2014 amid criticism that it did not bring in sufficient long term benefit to Canada.  For political reasons too long to get into here Quebec also runs a parallel program which allows residency to those who loan the Canadian economy 800 thousand Canadians dollars interest free for a period of time.  The major criticism of Quebec’s program is that while Quebec keeps the cash, most of the immigrants accepted to the program promptly settle in other provinces, primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This was the danger of Malta’s proposed program.

The original proposal from Malta would provide almost instant citizenship in Malta (and the European Union) for anyone wealthy enough to pay for it.  Citizenship for dependents of the main consumer would also be purchased at 25 thousand Euros each.  After this, the program did not require any sort of investment or residency in Malta itself.

It is not unreasonable to see why members of the European parliament spent over an hour complaining about this proposal.  To most anyone viewing this from the outside, the Maltese proposal was an attempt to do exactly what the Quebecois program was criticized for : economic advantage of immigration enjoyed by one state/province with all its associated costs born by another.  The Canadian/Quebecois program only provided residency, after which citizenship could be obtained after a few years of living in Canada as a Permanent Resident.  The Maltese proposal would have given instant citizenship of the European Union to anyone with a large enough bank account without any incentives for that person to establish roots in Malta.  Just like the Canadian example its a quick deduction that anyone wealthy enough to buy citizenship would establish themselves in larger/wealthier countries of the EU, most likely the United Kingdom and Germany.

Ultimately the Maltese government’s proposal crumbled against EU pressure, and has been amended so that rather than outright buying passports, the Maltese plan will be more similar to the program managed by other countries, namely by exchanging cash for permanent resident status and the ability to naturalize after a short period of time.  In Malta’s case this would allow for naturalization after one year (in comparison anyone going the regular route must wait 5 years before naturalization).

This concession was announced in a joint statement by the Maltese government and the European Commission, and supposedly this brings the Maltese experiment in line with the wishes of the wider European community by requiring some level of commitment and residency in Malta by the investor citizens.  According to a speech by Viviane Reding the current European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, the EU expects member states to award citizenship in “a spirit of sincere cooperation with the other member states….[and] should only award citizenship to persons where there is a genuine link or genuine connection to the country in question”.

Does 365 days spent in a country create a genuine connection or a genuine link to Malta?  If this is the case why must people who are not wealthy wait 1825 days before becoming Maltese?  The one-year-rule compromise simply means that Malta will have to live with the cost of these investor immigrations for one year before these people can ultimately use Malta as a stepping stone to a preferred European destination.  In the end, regardless of the speeches about sincere cooperation and genuine connection the attraction of spending up to a million Canadian dollars on this program will be quick and permanent access to the 28 European Union member states and all the potential the European Union citizenship provides

In my next post I am going to contrast the Maltese proposal with the proposed Spanish passport giveaway.

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